Staunton, January 11 – Moscow is doing almost nothing to fight the rising tide of xenophobia among the Russian population, experts say; but it is working hard to “ create the illusion” that it is doing so by increasing the number of publications classified as extremist and charging people with extremism for posts and likes on the Internet.
Between 2015 and 2016, the number of Russians charged and convicted of “extremism” for their activities online more than doubled, and the number of publications Russian courts banned as extremist passed 4,000, all suggesting that Moscow is working hard to rein in extremism (novayagazeta.ru/articles/2017/01/11/71093-post-sdan).
But Galina Arapova, director of Center for the Defense of Media Rights in Voronezh, told Pavel Gutiontov of “Novaya gazeta” that “despite creating the illusion of a struggle with extremism, primarily by focusing on reposts in social networks, the state has not blocked the spread of everyday xenophobia which is in full bloom.”
“The level of intolerance to everyone who distinguishes himself from others is only growing, and this is terrible,” Arapova says. “Legal norms which have been adopted in this sphere give the broadest possibility for arbitrary application because it is often difficult even for judges to understand where the border lies between the expression of legitimate opinion and extremism.”
Only a few years ago, she continues, to be charged with extremism a Russian had to call for the use of force. But today “that isn’t necessary.” Indeed, in many cases, it appears that no one thinks it is necessary to determine anything about the intentions of the person who posts or likes on line.
Instead, it is now assumed by many that anything the prosecutors and judges don’t like is therefore a crime “a priori.” The Russian Supreme Court in early November 2016 issued a decree calling for greater cre in this area; but it is far from clear whether this will have any effect or even was intended to be more that a public relations effort.